Endurance racing with some of the latest FIA GT3 machinery as the drawcard is set to play a leading role in Kiwi motorsport during 2016.
The first taste of long distance competition will be delivered on Saturday with newly instituted National Endurance Championship races over 1-Hour and 3-Hour durations at Hampton Downs.
The national titles bring together teams that contested the separate Mahindra North Island and ASKO South Island Series during 2015.
The event opens up a busy calendar of long distance races with a revamped North Island Series to run in June and July followed by South Island events in September and October.
Then there’s a big step up in profile and international participation during October and November when two rounds of the Australian GT Endurance Series are held here.
The AGT Endurance Championship will appear at both of the Tony Quinn-owned New Zealand tracks with the relaunch of Hampton Downs on October 29-30 and the Highlands 101 meeting at Cromwell a fortnight later.
Those events will bring a stellar field of Lamborghini, Ferrari, Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and McLaren GT3 weaponry to New Zealand tracks. The Australian GT Championship is flourishing in 2016 with an influx of new teams and the latest machinery at last weekend’s Clipsal 500 opening round with more still to come.
This weekend’s Hampton Downs races offer an early curtain-raiser for endurance fans with several GT3 cars providing the top level of competition in the 3-Hour category that is expected to feature 27 cars.
The line-up is headed by the 7.9-litre Sareni Camaro of Inky Tulloch and John McIntyre along with the similar car recently acquired by Glenn Smith and John de Veth.
Also set for the 3-Hour is the International Motorsport Audi R8 LMS Ultra recently returned the Bathurst 12 Hours with Rick Armstrong and Matt Halliday at the wheel. Former Porsche Cup car campaigners Sam Fillmore and Danny Stutterd have switched to a Ferrari 458 GT3.
Also back from a Bathurst campaign is the Porsche GT3 Cup S machine of Southland’s Scott O’Donnell while Christchurch-based South Island Series winners George and Angus MacFarlane are bringing their 2010 Porsche GT3 Cup car to the national event.
The rapid 7.0-litre Mosler MT900R driven by Aucklanders Simon Evans and Gene Rollinson is another leading contender and there are competitive V8 sedans such as the Super Tourer Holden Commodore driven by Simon McLennan and Richard Moore, the ex-V8 Super Ford Falcon of Matthew and Dwayne Carter and a 6.2-litre Commodore for Hamilton’s Lance Hughes and V8 Supercar young gun Andre Heimgartner.
Porsche Cup cars, BMW Open Class racers and a wide variety of other club saloons, production racers and sports cars complete the grids.
The National Championship 1-Hour race starts at 9.40am and the 3-Hour race gets the green light at 12.35pm. There’s also a non-championship 1-Hour race — for competitors who didn’t participate in either the 2015 North Island or South Island Series’ — which will start a 3.45pm.
2016 New Zealand Endurance calendar:
March 12 – NZ Championship at Hampton Downs June 4 – North Island round 1 at Taupo June 25 – North Island round 2 at Hampton Downs July 23 – North Island round 3 at Manfeild September 10 – South Island round 1 at Teretonga October 1 – South Island round 2 at Ruapuna October 15 – South Island round 3 at Timaru October 28-30 – Australian GT Endurance Champs round 3 at Hampton Downs November 12-13 — Australian GT Endurance Champs round 4 at Highlands Motorsport Park